Archive for October, 2013

‘Pick the marginal thing…’

Posted: October 30, 2013 by Janet Fitch in Uncategorized

From Kristin P.

The following are my notes from my very first class with Les, at UCLA’s Rolfe Hall on January 18, 2011. I always attempted to take down his short phrases verbatim….

When you start to write, you want to see what attaches to the picture.

Words get stale, think of new ways to employ them.

Fill in the blanks as a way to find the image.

Skip ahead.

Pick the marginal thing. Look off the main thing.

Pass around objects.

The thinking is taking up your mind. Start seeing.

See where your characters are.

Find a way to tell it.

Find a compelling character to follow, until your work becomes a lot more of that.

Bring one page, double spaced, 18 copies, to each class. For next week, write a list in the negative, like “This is not…” or “You are not…” etc.. Bring a picture. Three additional pages for Les each week.

Les’ book and author references [please forgive the hazy titles, he always threw these out on the fly]:
The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
Troutfishing in America
A Kind of Testament
Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson
Ferdydurke, by Gombrowicz
Brand Upon the Brain, by Guy Madden
Lithium for Medea, by Kate Braverman
Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion
Kitaj book
John Rechy, LA writer
Richard Russo’s short stories


First-class Pleskoisms

Posted: October 25, 2013 by jamieschaffner in pleskoisms

From Virgpaz

A few Pleskoisms straight from my first-class-with-Les-notebook:
About writing scene by scene in a novel: “If you like the scene, it really happened.”
And about building a character bit by bit: “Like a dark room, fixate on a shape coming to life. Then see what it really looks like.”
“Like a cobbler, fix as you go.”
“Where there’s speaking there’s also thinking.”
Thinking about the first person narrator: “Of course he watched this! There’s no other watcher, no other thinker, no other looker, no other do-er.”
“Characters don’t realize they’re in novels.”
Upon being asked what a cliché really was….”Anything you’ve read before in exactly the same words, shortcuts for saying real things.”


“Find a better word…”

Posted: October 21, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Nathalie Kramer

The first time Les commented on my ten pages was the first time I met him at his writer’s group in Venice.
Les said: “This has energy!” He was more excited than anyone in the group about my pages. There were certain things in the writing and formatting that needed help, and if I were to read these pages now, I would think: This writer must have never gone to school except High School and clearly her first language is NOT English.
Les, of course saw beyond that.
Les encouraged my heart to speak on the page.
He said that it might actually be a gift to not have had college education and have French as a first language.
Les encouraged my bravery, my need to learn and be a better writer.
Every time I sit down to write, I hear Les: ” Find a better word.” “Find a better way to say this.” Except sometimes, cuz it’s “swell.” or every once in a great while, “GREAT!”

The Writing Life

Posted: October 20, 2013 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized

by Les Plesko

There is somebody in this room who will become a writer. There’s someone here seduced enough by the vision you see, or think you see, that you’ll keep going. You are the person here who has wanted this all your life.

You’ve spent your time seized by vague longings for a lost world you’ve glimpsed, and you can’t get it out of your head. The feeling is so strong it makes you desperate. Any small sight or smell can set it off. You have carried this seed around like a lump in your throat, or a swelling in your chest. You have felt It rise and thought, “Why not me?” or “I can do this,” but then, perhaps, “life” took over. Yet you always felt your real life was waiting for you somewhere else. You know there’s something you should be doing that’s being neglected, and it is. It’s your writing calling you.

If you follow your heart, if you don’t quit, as most do, because writing is hard, I can tell you what will happen to you. Luckily, you will forget it. Then remember, then forget again.

Writing will break you and mend you. It will tear up your heart, but the heart heals and grows stronger. You will shatter yourself as you now know yourself, and you will welcome the shattering. In the course of the writing you will know exhilaration such as you’ve never known, like the top of your head has come off, and your chest aches, and you’ll weep tears of joy. And tears of grief, and frustration, and a bottomless sinking, but you will forget this when the exhilaration returns. And you will chase this. You will find It again. You’ll say, “Yes, this is why.”

Everything you thought you knew will be proved wrong. Everything you thought was important and necessary will fall away. If you love someone, your love will be tried. It may survive. If you’re looking for love, God forbid, you’ll find it. You will be in danger. You think you’ll die but you may live. You will grasp a new reality only to lose it again, until a newer reality seizes you. You will see the light, then it will fade until another light appears. You will follow the lights down into yourself. You will be broken and you will be recast. You will have a deep and abiding spiritual experience, and then you will lose it and wonder, “Where did it go? What was It I felt?” And you will say to yourself, “Of course I can stop.” And of course you can. Sure, you can stop, but only at the risk of your soul. You’ll know this. So you will risk everything, again. You will be heartsick and afraid, then heart-swollen and fearless. Writing will infect your life until it is your life, and there will be no turning back. You will learn what bravery is. You will be utterly and irrevocably transformed.

You will wonder, “How did I get here?” But you’ll know how. Then you’ll get back to work.

Wind ’em up, let ’em go

Posted: October 15, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Jamie Schaffner

How to write a scene: Place your characters in a room, wind them up like those little kid toys, and let ‘em go.



Posted: October 11, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Sovann Somreth

Weird? I’ll take weirdness any day. Normal people scare me.

-Les Plesko

The emotional content of the novel…

Posted: October 10, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Janet Clare:

“The emotional content of the novel is more important than the forward movement of the story. In fact, it is the story.” Les Plesko